When social, mobile, location and every other buzzword come together

One of the themes that I have covered probably more than any other is how to get over the hype of all the new technologies and ideas.

In the two years I have been writing about innovation in travel I have wanted to see ideas that actually create something new and interesting that also delivers measurable business benefits.

From the early days when airlines and hotel chains were trying to set up social networks, to the cheer squad pushing ancillary revenue in isolation of pretty much everything else, to the mobile messiahs, semantic search svengalis, Twitter tyrants, Facebook fanboys and Foursquare fawners, many of whom slavishly jumped on every bandwagon only to then jump again to the newest shiniest gimmicky toy that was then flavor of the week, it has been a long haul trying to separate hubris from hard facts and brouhaha from business benefits.

On second thoughts, didn’t someone once say, let he who is without sin cast the first stone?

Back in April this year I wrote an article for Tnooz titled: Five untapped opportunities for mobile and travel.

Here is part of one of the five ideas I discussed: Geo-gaming.

Regarding a travel opportunity still wide open for start-ups, I’m thinking something along the lines of Foursquare meets Geocaching meets a Buzz overlay on Google Maps that pulls in content (and revenue) from a DMO, a destination content supplier, and a mobile ad network. Foursquare have been getting an incredible amount of good publicity in the just over a year since they launched. Geocaching.com is taking the scavenger hunt into the 21st century. Someone even made a movie about it. Noticings is trying to make it more of a game and SimpleGeo is making it much easier to add geo-location into your app, but none of them have quite put it together in a way that could really work in travel – some Foursqaure users are even starting to get burnt out.

I can’t be too critical of others, as to write that paragraph I’d obviously consumed a crate full of the Kool-Aid quartet of social, mobile, location and travel – an hallucinogenic mix at the best of times.

Despite trying to inspire an army of entrepreneurs to desert day jobs and chase their mobile millions, part of me did think there was an opportunity for someone to make something of geo-gaming in the travel sector. I’m still somewhat of a believer, even without the Kool-Aid.

Since then, Google has invested in both geo-gaming and social gaming plus the topic of augmented reality keeps being mentioned by many as a trend to watch.

But up until recently I hadn’t seen any examples from a travel/tourism related company pulling together most of the six or more concepts I have raised so far in this article.

Nobody was doing so in an integrated and compelling fashion with likely wide appeal (within the target segment) as opposed to something unlikely to ever grow much beyond the geek niche or unable to sustain usage after some initial hype.

That was until a colleague recently showed me a four minute video from the Vail ski resort in Colorado.


What Vail has done with EpicMix (at least as far as I can tell from watching the video clip) is created an application that should appeal to a much wider audience than just the messiahs, svengalis, tyrants, fanboys and fawners I referred to earlier.

The geo-gaming component is minimal (competing with friends to collect pins/badges) but I can also envisage this aspect of the program expanding over time.

What is impressive in Vail EpicMix is that it is a social networking mobile enabled tool that should ensure wide adoption with less chance of user burnout and fatigue

It is a social tool that lets skiers live in the moment yet creates compelling content in the background whilst you actually enjoy your vacation without the need to pull out a phone and manually perform status updates and the like.

So many of the reasons why a lot of the new technologies we in the industry often get excited about end up failing to be adopted on a large scale by the average traveler appear to have been overcome with this program from Vail.

Now all I need to do is work out how I can justify a business trip to the mountains of Colorado to test it out in person!

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Martin Collings

About the Writer :: Martin Collings

Martin Collings is a contributor to tnooz and is currently employed as Vice President, Innovation Management & Commercialization at MasterCard Labs, based in Sydney. In this position, he manages various mobile payments initiatives with his role covering the region of Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa.

Prior to MasterCard, Martin Collings spent six years with Amadeus IT Group, based in both Madrid and Chicago in a variety of airline roles, most recently as head of airline e-commerce sales for the Americas.

During his time at Amadeus he also wrote the Shearwater Blog covering various topics of interest for airline selling via direct channels. The views of Martin Collings are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of MasterCard.



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  1. Alexei

    Seems you missed a lot of various solutions presented on the marketplace. We in Toozla monitor our competitors and find dozens of. Many of them include gaming elements.
    We are also thinking about some geo-cashing-like stuff. For example, we can implement mobile quests based on books where city itself plays significant role. Is this interesting? Bestseller readers would be happy to visit such places again (remember Da Vinci Code and excursions by the book spots). It’s just a question of innovative publisher – where is it?
    At the same time our service allows travelers to share their opinion in audio – just in 2 steps directly from mobile.
    So, market is full is offers… There is lack of users!

    • Martin Collings

      Alexei, I think we are both making a very similar point. You when you say “There is a lack of users!” and me when I wrote “Nobody was doing so in an integrated and compelling fashion with likely wide appeal (within the target segment) as opposed to something unlikely to ever grow much beyond the geek niche or unable to sustain usage after some initial hype.”
      There are many innovative technological applications being built (I just took a quick look Toozla, thanks) but as I’m sure you appreciate, getting scale is the really hard part, and in a local bigness sort of way, this was where I saw the potential with Vail’s EpicMix.

      • Alexei

        Martin, you are right.
        Integration is an issue. From Toozla’s point of view, we are ready to add services into the system, but it’s really hard to understand what users need in. We expected they need audio guides (actually, unlimited guides, extended paper books). Seems not…
        Vail’s EpicMix looks like something for geeks again. This is a normal start of technology – early adopters are always geeks.
        Nobody knows what technology finally will be accepted by users.

  2. Graham

    Liked the post, Martin, but I have to ask you about one point:

    “(Fanboys) many of whom slavishly jumped on every bandwagon only to then jump again to the newest shiniest gimmicky toy that was then flavor of the week”

    I don’t think it’s fair to blame the marketers for moving so fast from one technology to another, they don’t actually set the trends, the consumers do. I believe that if we sit back and let our customers/users move on from one thing to another without trying to take advantage of that medium, we’ve failed at our trade.

    This may make us look fickle, but that’s the nature of tech at the moment; it’s evolving so fast that it’s looking like the quick and the dead out there.

    • Martin Collings

      Graham, in my role as the self-appointed raconteur of rationality, someone has to apply a bit of skepticism to the maketing mania, but don’t let that put you off trying to prove the pundits wrong. If it wasn’t for the great marketing skills of many of the people trying to crack the travel market with innovative new products I’d often be struggling to find interesting topics to write about.

      • Graham

        Thanks 🙂 Just to add- Although I disagree with the over-use of the word Epic in that video, that’s some pretty cool stuff. I’ve been waiting for someone to crack the passive location stuff for a while! Always thought it’d be with RFID, considering how cheap yet powerful the tech is.

  3. Gina Baillie

    I too am surprised there aren’t more examples of geo-gaming in the travel industry. I’ve done quite a bit of research into this and Vail Resorts is the best example I can find. It’s definitely a new and exciting area! I think the opportunities that social media, location and mobile are pretty mind blowing and will actually irrevocably change the way we interact with consumers in the travel industry. Some initiatives i’ve seen risk just attracting cherry pickers looking for one off points, prizes and rewards but the Vail initiative would certainly drive me back to their resorts over and over!

    • Martin Collings

      Gina, too many apps (especially social networking and geo-gaming themed ones) require a heavy commitment from the user upfront before that same user gets to see the benefits. This can be a difficult hurdle to overcome, but Vail appear to have worked out a way. I believe this is one key factor that will be the difference between hard core geek niche and wider appeal with a maintainable level of user interest.

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